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Women’s Equality Day 2014

Today is Women’s Equality Day, a celebration of American women achieving the right to vote in 1920.  I was privileged to join the Maine Women’s Policy Center at their press briefing to release their new report, “Building a Prosperous Maine: A Roadmap to Economic Security for Women and Their Families” to mark this special day and speak about the importance of access to health care as part of women’s economic security.  Here are my remarks:

Access to health care is central to achieving economic security for women and their families. All women need the security of affordable, comprehensive health coverage to pursue their personal, educational and professional goals. Health care is important because it means you can get preventive screenings and prescriptions drugs and other medical care but it also means if something unexpected happens to you, you won’t lose your house or your business or your farm – it means financial security and peace of mind.

Women led the way in fighting for national health reform, to get the Affordable Care Act passed so that “being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition”. Women also make up the majority of those buying health insurance on the new Health Insurance Marketplace.  It’s not surprising that women are at the forefront; we’re the ones to take care of our spouses, children, and parents, often making the health care decisions for the family.  And women need access to family planning services so they can make decisions about when and whether to have children.

The ACA has made significant gains for women’s access to affordable coverage but obstacles to care remain, especially for women living in poverty and for those who do not have insurance.

Unfortunately, Maine has failed to fully implement the ACA as it was intended by failing to accept the federal funds to cover more people in MaineCare. Maine is the only state in New England that hasn’t accepted these funds, leaving a gap in coverage for nearly 70,000 people. Not surprisingly, across the country, in the states expanding Medicaid coverage to cover more people, the number of uninsured is dropping.  In the other states, the reverse is true.  The decision to forego these funds is putting Maine women’s health at risk.

As this Roadmap to Economic Security points out, there are disparities between women who are insured and those without coverage:

  • For uninsured women in Maine, cost is a major barrier to care – over 51 percent of uninsured women have faced cost as an obstacle when seeking care, compared to only 16 percent of insured women.
  • Uninsured women utilize preventive services at lower rates; only 50 percent of uninsured women in Maine received a recommended mammogram compared to 78 percent of insured women.
  • Additionally, only 68 percent of uninsured women are receiving a recommended Pap test compared to 86 percent of insured women in Maine.
    (National Women’s Law Center Mind the Gap Report)

People with Medicaid coverage are less likely to ignore other bills or borrow money to pay for medical expenses than people without health coverage.  And that’s why MaineCare is such a critical safety net, especially for women.

Since January 1st of this year, we’ve lost over $219,000,000 federal dollars, or $900,000 a day, and counting, that would have come into Maine. These are dollars that could be used to provide mammograms for our mothers and sisters; prescriptions for our neighbors, and flu shots for the day care workers who care for our children and direct care workers who care for our seniors.  These dollars would also help to create jobs in the health care sector.

There are many challenges to improving women’s access to health in Maine and key solutions are provided in this roadmap – actionable solutions.  And that’s why today’s release is so timely, particularly with respect to MaineCare coverage.  We can change course, it’s not too late.  The opportunity to provide economic security to Maine women and meet their health care needs remains open.

Thank you.

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